News these days a little hard to digest
West Coast Editor,
October 2005

What would news shows do without polls, surveys, and other sources of predigested factoids? It’s hard to imagine, because this kind of news is becoming the fatty snack of choice in our news diet. Take out the infotainment and celebrity gossip from our three new daily commuter newspapers and you’d barely have enough left over to wrap an order of fish and chips.

In fact, one could argue that none of this qualifies as news, since in our culture the word connotes useful, factual information. On the other hand, “news,” in the late 14th-century, simply meant “new things.” But if we treated everything new as being newsworthy, then the word would lose all meaning.

Herein lies the problem with polls, surveys, and the like: What do they tell us? Is the information reliable? When a daily newspaper runs a story on the latest finding from the Fraser Institute, for example, we’re meant to accept the reporting at face value; that is, as a factual news story. After all, the story often appears on the front page, not in the commentary section. So, how much of a story like this is fact and how much is propaganda?

This latter word dates to 1622 when Pope Gregory XV sent the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide (congregation for propagating the faith), the committee of cardinals, to supervise foreign missions. The pejorative connotation of dishonest information dates to the First World War.

“Think tank” as a synonym for research institute dates to 1959 in reference to The Center for Behavioral Sciences, in Palo Alto, California, but the image of scientific objectivity mainly serves to obscure the self-interest of the people doing the thinking. What made me think of all this was a new survey claiming that customer service was better today than it was 10 years ago.

Bearing that “fact” in mind, I called my wireless phone service regarding my phone number, and was put on an interminable hold. Nevertheless, an unctuous female voice assured me that a customer care associate would be with me soon.

Aww! I feel so much better.